Sherman Hemsley, Actor Who Played George Jefferson on ‘The Jeffersons’ Dead at Age 74 … Rest in Peace
Sherman Hemsley, the actor best known for his role as George Jefferson of the 1970′s sitcom ‘The Jefferson’s” has passed away at the age of 74. Of course Sherman Hemsley got his TV start as the next door neighbor of Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” before finally “moving on up to the East side and getting his own starting role in the Jefferson’s. Oh, how I loved the Jeffersons and the sparring that Archie Bunker and George Jefferson got into. Both were comedic icons.
Sherman Hemsley, Rest in Peace
That was thanks to the deft comic touch of Broadway and TV veteran Sherman Hemsley, who died Tuesday at age 74 at his home in El Paso, his agent, Todd Frank, said the El Paso Sheriff’s Department confirmed .
Born in 1938, the South Philadelphia native served in the Air Force and paid his way through drama school by working at the post office. He kept that day job even after moving to New York to pursue acting roles.
Hemsley was starring in the early ’70s musical Purlie when All in the Family producer Norman Lear handpicked him to play the Bunkers’ next-door neighbor in working-class Queens, N.Y. You could say George Jefferson’s reputation preceded him — he was mentioned as early as 1971 but Family fans never saw him, the explanation being that he wouldn’t even step foot in his racist neighbor’s house until Hemsley finished his theatrical run and formally joined the cast in 1973.
After much bickering and name-calling — George loved to call Archie a “honky” — the two men began to change each other’s attitudes about race, and viewers got to see life from the point of view of George, an entrepreneur with his own dry-cleaning shops, and his wife, “Weezy” (Isabel Sanford).
More from the New York Times.
High-strung and irrepressible, George Jefferson quickly became one of America’s most popular television characters, a high-energy, combative black man who backed down to no one — something that had rarely been seen on television. At the same time, however, he was vain, snobbish and bigoted (“honky” was one of his favorite epithets directed at whites), and flaunted his self-regard like a badge. Each week, his wife or their irreverent maid, Florence (played by Marla Gibbs), would step up to scuttle his wrongheaded schemes or deflate his delusions of grandeur.